A controversial proposal on how to increase minority and women participation in City construction projects is expected to go before Portland City Council for a vote in August. The proposal was developed behind closed doors by a work group of City managers with little experience in construction. Union and nonprofit leaders who have worked for years to increase the number of women and minorities in the construction workforce say the proposed resolution/ordinance is poorly written, and won’t accomplish its stated goal.
“We do see significant concerns regarding the Community Equity and Inclusion Plan (CEIP) in its current form, mostly on issues of accountability, transparency, and enforcement,” said Kelly Haines, senior project manager for WorkSystems Inc., at a July 12 City Council hearing on the proposal. Haines staffs the Metropolitan Alliance for Workforce Equity, a union-backed coalition known as MAWE, which mobilized to attend the hearing and testify against the proposal.
Critics say it’s a step backward from the City’s existing policy. In 2012, Portland City Council approved a model “Community Benefits Agreement” (CBA) that committed general contractors, unions, minority contractors, and workforce training and community groups to work together to achieve ambitious numeric targets for participation by women and minorities—both as apprentices and journeymen, and as subcontractors—on City-funded construction projects. That CBA is supposed to be applied to all City construction projects larger than $15 million.
Haines pointed to the success of the CBA on two completed Water Bureau projects. “The CBA pilots not only hit the goals, but doubled and tripled them many times,” she said.
Under the new proposal going to City Council, a separate policy known as the CEIP would apply to public improvement contracts valued at between $10 million and $25 million. Any project in excess of $25 million would require “consideration of a modified CBA.” The new proposal would leave it to the discretion of City bureau chiefs whether to implement a CBA on any given project.
Nicole Rappaport, general counsel for Operating Engineers Local 701, said compared to the CBA, the proposed CEIP seems to be oriented more toward minority and women contractors at the expense of minority and women workers.
“No one disputes that there is an under-utilization of minority and female businesses on large-scale City projects,” she said. “Where I think there is also an under-utilization is with the minority and female workforce. I think having a trigger point to a CBA helps to accomplish increasing a minority and female workforce.”
Willy Myers, executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council, said he can’t support the resolution in its current form.
“There needs to be a trigger. The threshold of $25 million has to be the trigger that says ‘we will be doing the Community Benefits Agreement,’” Myers testified.
At the end of public testimony, Commissioner Dan Saltzman offered two amendments — one to trigger the CBA on any project of $25 million or more; the second to raise the threshold for workforce participation requirements from the current $100,000 per project to $500,000.
Mayor Ted Wheeler tabled the amendments, stating that more information was needed. Commissioners agreed. Wheeler said the resolutions will be voted on in August. A date had not been set at press time. [Two separate resolutions related to the CEIP had first readings at the July 12 council meeting. They ask City bureaus to develop and implement a contract delivery method selection process, and to develop a Community Opportunities and Enhancements Program and funding plan.]
Myers told the Labor Press after the meeting that the building trades supports Saltzman’s first amendment, but not the second. Overall, Myers said the CEIP is “moving in the right direction,” noting specifically the addition of a partnership agreement signatory page, and oversight through a Community Equity and Inclusion Committee.